When members of the cast of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s recent production performed the hit “Suddenly, Seymour” to a packed house at Play as a part of a Cabaret-style fundraiser for Nashville Cares, there might have been a touch of kismet in the air. TPAC is bringing its patrons the widely acclaimed musical Little Shop of Horrors for their enjoyment.
For the sadly uninitiated, Little Shop (as its adherents refer to the off-kilter musical) is not your run-of-the-mill Broadway musical. In it’s own way, it is in a class all by itself. “Little Shop of Horrors” opened in May of 1982. Its modesty of size, not to mention its wonderfully off-handed comic book tone, disguised the extraordinary achievement of its authors, Howard Ashman (book and lyrics) and Alan Menken (music). There had been previous rock musicals, and musicals like Grease, that exploited the nostalgia for classic oldies.
There had even been a film, George Lucas’ American Graffiti, which used classic rock on its soundtrack as an ironic counterpoint to events of the story. But no one up to this time had written a completely theatrical score – in the classic, Rodgers and Hammerstein sense – in the oldie-rock idiom. The very idea seems counter-intuitive; classic rock was a beat and a hook and a repeated lyric. Nothing, on its face, could be less dramatic. But Ashman and Menken took the form and refashioned it into pure theatre music.
In its new Broadway production, the level of that achievement is clear. Little Shop features clever pop parodies, like the uproarious “Dentist!” but it also contains extraordinarily funny, smart and completely dramatic musical scenes written in the soul-shouter idiom Motown-style. It also contains the prototypical pop/rock theatre power ballad, “Suddenly Seymour,” which set a standard that has yet to be surpassed. Menken mined old rock ‘n’ roll clichés for this show, but he also featured his own distinctive musical voice, which shone through the fabric of pastiche. The result is that there’s hardly an unmemorable phrase in the entire score.
Little Shop of Horrors will run January 25-30, 2005 at TPAC’s Jackson Hall. For more information or to purchase tickets call 255-ARTS or visit TPAC on the Web at www.tpac.org. Tickets are also available at any Ticketmaster location.